Steven Spielberg and George Clooney go way back in show business. In fact, it was Spielberg who gave Clooney his big break on the TV show ER, the actor recalls.
The two Hollywood heavyweights came together Thursday evening for a different reason: Spielberg was honoring Clooney for his humanitarian work around the globe, especially in the Darfur region of Sudan.
At a glittery fundraising gala in the vast “Whale Room” at New York’s Museum of Natural History, the director and his USC Shoah Foundation presented Clooney with its Ambassador for Humanity Award. Also on hand to praise Clooney were his co-star in the new movie Gravity, Sandra Bullock, and Jon Stewart.
“George is the best kind of humanitarian,” Spielberg said. “The humble humanitarian.” The director called Clooney “an unparalleled example of action over apathy.”
Clooney told the crowd of donors that “Our job is to make it hard for the bad guys to do what they’re doing, and for the good guys to ignore it.”
The actor also praised Spielberg for his foundation’s work in creating and preserving video testimonies of Holocaust victims for future generations to learn from.
The gala marked the 20th anniversary of Spielberg’s Holocaust movie Schindler’s List, which won the director an Oscar and, Spielberg says, gave him the idea to start a foundation that would record interviews with Holocaust survivors. The foundation, founded in 1994 and based at the University of Southern California, has collected nearly 52,000 eyewitness testimonies on video.
Spielberg himself did not have relatives who died in the Holocaust. But his grandmother helped Hungarian Jews who had fled the Holocaust learn English in the U.S.
While making Schindler’s List, he said, he met survivors who would come to him and want to tell him their stories, starting from when they were children. “They just wanted me to listen,” he said. “They didn’t want to talk to their children about it. The fact that they wanted to tell a complete stranger what they couldn’t tell a daughter or son really moved me.”